I've been thinking a lot about how writers make their characters multi-dimensional- to develop a form of storytelling beyond romanticism and stoicism- creating some semblance of the "true" human condition. More Hunter S. Thompson, less William Blake or John Keats.
The truth is, I fell in love with the W.B. Yeats-style of writing, because these were the sorts of authors that filled my family's library growing up- that I poured over their pages of flowery repetitions and ethereal settings, with a hunger for both inspiration and detachment. Whose books and verses were shoved beneath my pillow before long sleeps of dreamy oblivion, or manifested into ideas so lovely and sweet they afforded me wakefulness into the wee-small hours.
I was a dreamer, both by day and by night- and not that I didn't know hardship or pain (and still), what I lacked was a way of expressing what I really knew of people- how alone we are in this race, how insecure and sometimes dangerous we can be, how capable we are of great things, and also the most destructive- Love and Hate, and how lost we truly are.
For so long, and even up until recently, writing was my porthole of living vicariously in places I'd created- a somewhat Utopian, unflawed essence of a universe. Think Being John Malkovich meets Rilke; on the cusp of reality, and also wrapped up in it's heart strings. The way I had chosen to exist and write, was a step past cathartic and not necessarily "in a bubble", but upon a plateau that I'd built for myself- an observation tower if you will, remote and removed from the day to day struggles and challenges that needed to be experienced and expressed to make anyone a better person of character and artistry.
So what, if someone smokes two packs of cigarettes a day? Does that make him or her any less of a notable person, because we see their weaknesses (or is addiction even a crutch)? It doesn't have to just be about the theatrics either, or maybe some eccentrics in good placement and judgment are okay-I don't really know what the equation is. But I do know that if an author has captured at least one empathic reader with their writing, then they should find pride in what they have done.
Because it is no small feat being able to relate to another human being or convey a message with our limited language of words, let alone create upon a page, a world within a world.
“If our lives are dominated by a search for happiness, then perhaps few activities reveal as much about the dynamics of this quest—in all its ardour and paradoxes—than our travels.”
– Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel
I always thought it took a certain kind of person to be spontaneous, and let me be clear; I’m not talking about the impulsive person, the eccentric, or the passionate.
The distinction, you may ask? (Of course I am no expert, but this is my analysis built on years of observation, people meeting and watching, personal exposure, and accrued knowledge).
Spontaneity lends itself to positive experiences, whereas impulsiveness has more of a negative connotation and result. And the eccentric or the passionate? They are typically fueled, or are a byproduct of influence or suggestion, often seen as irrational in their decision-making—She got caught up in the heat of passion. He was an eccentric with crazy energy. Without a thought, her impulse was to cry wolf.
The spontaneous were truly my idols growing up, those who had it in their heart and blood to jump on board the zeppelin of life, be carried off to far-away places, and absorb the beauty and splendor of something new and invoking of the senses—something that could never be duplicated from its impression and everlasting self-fulfillment. To me this was the tall-tale kind of stuff characterized by men and women without fear, shiny faces and perfectly coiffed hair, waving their hats out the window of fast-moving cars and trains with a loud WHOO-HOO. From the literary construct and perspective, this would be the archetypal hero or heroine. Say if I were able to invite all these types to dinner, the guest list would consist of: Jo March (Little Women), Flaubert, Gulliver (Gulliver’s Travels), Indiana Jones, Steinbeck, Kerouac, Che Guevara, Mark Twain, Pippi Longstocking, and Freya Stark. (There are many more, but these were the ones who came to mind first).
I could dream as a child does, and I did, but the reality was I was scared of many things, and when it came down to it, I really didn’t like being uncomfortable in any situation. Nowadays, there is a diagnosis for the sort of kid I was in my formative years, they call it Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). I couldn’t bare the sound of loud noises (so fireworks were out). Certain smells and textures of food made me sick to my stomach (so my diet was limited). And I couldn’t stand my hair being brushed, the seams and tags of my clothing rubbing my skin, or even getting remotely dirty. I was a neurotic 5-year old, and I envied the kids who could just let loose and play, uninhibited and without a care in the world. Instead, I was color-coordinating my closet, all the while fantasizing about being someone else. Someone more like my mother, or even my little sisters. Someone like Winnie the Pooh, floating away with his red Balloon, or Alice exploring Wonderland.
I thought maybe I just didn’t get the gene. I was creative enough, but lacked the ability to enjoy the ride (car-sickness was commonplace and the seat belt was perpetually too constricting). So, adventure literature and travel writing sucked me right in; it removed me from my self. It became both the inspiration and the remedy. This lasted right on through to my teens, when insecurities and self-doubt got the best of me—a highly introverted young follower.
In my late twenties (and quickly coming up on 30), I am beginning to recount such things—how I got to where I am now. Who I am now. Spontaneity—plain and simple. I’ve been told, as adults we are supposed to become more cautious about taking risks and going on whims; more conventional and practical with our pursuits. Perhaps, I am still a late-bloomer?
I am proud to say in this decade, I’ve learned to be spontaneous—a milestone, in a much longer journey. One of the best and profound pieces of advice I have ever received, actually came from my younger siblings this past summer. On two separate occasions, they both said to me in their own articulate, spunky ways, “For Christ’s sake Sarah, take a fucking risk for once in your life.”
It was a reminder to me that I still have so much more exploring to do and many more memories to be had. In the meantime, I am seriously considering creating a female character with a certain kind of adventurous je nais se quoi…